Thoughts on the leadership crisis in the EU
By Ulrike Reisner
  • Ulrike Reisner
    Self-employed political analyst, lecturer & journalist
    based in Austria, political analyst with PICREADI
  • The causes of the political leadership crisis in the EU are manifold. Ideas for new political leadership, on the other hand, are in short supply. Instead of weighing good against bad political leadership, however, the question should be what constitutes stable, crisis-proof political leadership.

    An independent political observer and Creative Diplomacy expert Ulrike Reisner reflects on political transformations in the EU.
In a globalised world dominated by mass media, the question of good or bad political leadership is often projected onto the protagonists of political systems. If so, human qualities or moral standards are applied. This blog distances consciously from this point of view. Here, it is assumed that the question of political leadership cannot be detached from the question of political systems. Instead of just discussing a comparison of 'good' and 'bad' political control systems it would be more insightful to make an internal systemic analysis of what can be seen as stable political leadership from the respective legality of the system concerned.
Searching for value-free criteria

In science and teaching, the question of good political leadership has been raised again and again. Getting to the bottom of the crisis of political leadership and its causes, it is implicitly assumed that political leadership is not (any longer) 'good'. But is it even possible to use the term 'good' in a global context?

Since there is still no common concept and no common theory of ethics worldwide, there is still no common concept of good and evil, of right or wrong. Good or bad political leadership are therefore indefinite terms that have no common equivalent in the world.

It is therefore necessary to identify a proven criterion that can be measured and is reliable, that applies equally throughout the world and is open to review. In this way, a comparison between political systems and political leaderships becomes possible.

Politically speaking, antifragility in the broadest sense leads to positive assertion, because

"Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better." [1]

[1] Taleb, N. N., Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Random House, 2012, 430
Indicators of fragility of the political leadership

At present, the political elite in the European Union are primarily concerned with finding and coping with assumed causes of a supposed political crisis. It becomes obvious that the representatives of the EU political leadership take a perspective that is not only determined by the institutional and normative conditions but intended to protect this Status Quo. This limited perspective, however, leads to a lack of viability resulting in a lack of political ideas and solutions, especially in the case of highly complex challenges. Political leaders then often tend to irrational behaviour, where questions of faith and moral judgments take precedence over rational arguments.

In various EU member states it can be observed that a new form of conservatism is spreading in the political leadership. The protagonists are primarily concerned with retaining power and securing the already existing mutual relations with the elites' networks. On the one hand, this leads to an incrustation of steering structures, which is often associated with a very slow or missing decision-making culture. In addition, the political leadership in some EU states acts according to the principles of claim management: claims against competitors are enforced as far as possible and third-party claims are fended off as effectively as possible.

Evolutionary development is not dependent on a certain structure of norms and institutions. Due to a growing tendency of simplification, ignorance and mental overload in a globalised digitised world, the political elite in the EU run the risk of overlooking or simply ignoring precisely this ongoing worldwide development of political systems. It would therefore be advisable to urge the political elite in the European Union to take the position on a meta-level in order to recognise political transformation processes as such.
The dissolution of political ideologies leads to two - obviously contradictory – tendencies. One tendency can be described as a kind of technocratic nihilism, unhindered by ethics, morality or values. The other tendency is the resurgence of religions and faith communities of all kinds. Their subject matter is not knowledge-based but belief-based and apparently offers timeless answers and concepts to ethics, morality and values. This relationship of tension leads to political elites' disorientation with a recognisable tendency towards simple answers and explanations. The enemy of rational information are belief- and ideology-based irrational explanations. They are based on closed worldviews that are not accessible to rational scrutiny.
Neither the EU's political leadership nor the EU's and the Member States' legal systems were prepared for the rapid technological development of the last three decades. The achievements of digitalisation enable political and non-political leaders to exchange ideas and make decisions worldwide and in a matter of seconds.
External effects

In addition to the systemic parameters of influence described above, there are, of course, external effects that have an impact on political leadership in the EU. These external effects mainly comprise the delinking of power and politics, an exponential increase in knowledge and an enormous increase in decision speed.

The emergence of new (non-state) political stakeholders is linked to power of finance, information monopolies or scientific elites. The political sphere has already detached itself from the exclusivity of traditional state political stakeholders. Stakeholders of the pre-political space are increasingly influencing the political steering. However, in many cases they are beyond any political control. In the fields of the currency policy of the Euro Zone, for instance, EU member states have already ceded essential parts of their sovereignty for the benefits of a powerful central steering institution.

Today, knowledge and information are a resource comparable to financial capital or natural resources such as oil, gas, or rare earths. Information is becoming a precious commodity, which is being passed on also exclusively. Those who are cut off from the important sources of information also fall behind in the competition for political leadership. The protagonists of the EU's political leadership are forced to react to the radical changes deriving from an information & knowledge society. Political steering is no longer tied to specific (inter)governmental organisations. Political steering is in progress throughout the entire globalised digitised world.

Neither the EU's political leadership nor the EU's and the Member States' legal systems were prepared for the rapid technological development of the last three decades. This applies to the internet, to social media and – above all – to the global networking of trade, finance, mobility and communication. The achievements of digitalisation enable political and non-political leaders to exchange ideas and make decisions worldwide and in a matter of seconds. This enormous increase in decision-making speed is accompanied by a growing number of decisions to be taken by political leaders. In view of the underlying, often very complex problems, wrong decisions are made or decisions are being postponed.

If the crisis of political leadership is caused by its fragility, and stable political leadership, consistently, has clear characteristics of antifragility, then the question arises as to how political leadership can move from fragile to antifragile conditions.

It is proved that decentralised decision-making will lead to less fragile structures. Antifragility also consists in the fact that coincidences and variations of the known and the proven may play a role. However, the highly complex, hierarchical and normative decision-making structures in the EU exclude such randomness and variation. This complexity and immobility makes the entire system fragile.

Assuming that the fundamental necessity for (cultural) evolutionary processes exists in communication and cooperation, then within a political system - but also between political systems - the primary task for politicians is communication on a rational, evidence-based basis and cooperation with the aim of reconciling interests as far as possible without the use of violence.

Again, the goal of antifragility proves to be a necessary prerequisite because evolutionary progress can only function between stable, system-relevant variables without suppression or eradication.
Post Scriptum
In a brief historical comparison of political systems, it has to be concluded that the elements of competition in an open, democratically organised society can best be guaranteed by the element of the temporal limitation of political power.